Updated: Feb 28
How to navigate the decision to proceed with a divorce with your child's best interest in mind.
By Lexie Sikes, LMSW
Therapist, HeadFirst Counseling
It is never easy for a couple to decide they are going to divorce. However, the statistics still show about 40 to 50 percent of marriages are headed that way despite efforts to work things out. Divorce often elicits overwhelming emotions for all members of the family. Helping your child navigate the difficulties of divorce can equip them with better coping skills, while providing them with the ability to be more resilient later in life.
This blog offers some specific guidance that can help parents minimize the negative effects divorce may have on their children:
Maintain a stable and consistent daily routine
Engage in meaningful conversation with your children as soon as you can. Doing so will help prepare them for the changes they will experience as a result the divorce.
Be honest with your children about the changes that may be difficult (new home, new school etc.) Honesty is imperative to facilitating a less difficult transition to these changes.
Provide reassurance by emphasizing the important things in the life of your children that won’t change, things like participating in athletics, attending summer camps and continuing family traditions. Children often feel selfish by inquiring about these things, despite their fear that they may lose them. Reassurance in this area increases stability.
Keep legal conversations, negative talk and marriage conflict away from the kids
Children have complicated questions. It may be difficult to answer them truthfully, however doing this in an age appropriate manner is very important. Reassuring the child that, “this is an adult decision and has nothing to do with you,” is something that will need to be continuously done over time.
Recognize that though the other parent may not be the best spouse for you, they can still be a good parent for your child. This will help preserve the relationship with and the perception of the other parent.
Point out the positive things the other parent does. For example, “I like how your mom is always on time,” or, “I am glad your dad is good at math, so he can help with your homework,” are ways to facilitate a positive relationship.
To the extent possible, be in the same place at the same time; this is one thing children report missing the most, especially when they see their friends having time with both parents.
Validate the feelings of your children
It is important to recognize the grief that often accompanies divorce. Children may grieve the family they know and love, as well as the family they expected to have in the future. Parents can minimize these effects by understanding that everyone grieves differently. Grief may even look different between children in the same family.
Encourage children to talk to you or another adult they trust. Often times children feel that they cannot talk to their parents because they don’t want to upset them. Have them name a few trusted adults and let those adults know that the child may talk to them. An open channel of communication can go a long way.
Validate your child’s feelings and promote freedom of expression. Let them know it is okay to cry when they are sad, to be excited to spend time with the other parent, and to be happy and still enjoy things in general.
Find support. One of the most difficult things for children is feeling that they are alone. This is where therapy can come in very helpful, as a therapist specializing in divorce can help normalize the feelings your child is experiencing and help him or her learn helpful ways to cope with the changing family environment.
Join a support group or connect with a family experiencing something similar. A sense of community is imperative.
Recent divorce in your family, or think you may be headed in that direction? Contact our office today to speak with one of our clinicians specializing in helping children recover from and navigate a parent's separation or divorce.
HeadFirst Counseling in Dallas, TX (469) 665-9416
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